Photo Courtesy of RMN Blog
Yesterday, Wes Magruder wrote a lovely piece on LGBTQ people and our relationship to the church entitled “Why gays should be glad church isn’t safe.” His heartfelt and honest words illuminated the difficulty a pastor has in protecting her or his congregants. He shared the struggle of responding to a gay couple who asked if his church would be a safe place for them to visit. The reality, he reminded us, is that there is really no such thing as a completely safe space in church. The beauty of the church, in fact, is partly that we are all diverse people made of various ideas, experiences, theologies, and opinions. He even spoke to the truth that “church committees are full of folks who are racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic.” After highlighting the reality that there really is no way to promise anyone they will always feel truly safe and accepted in a church space, or any space for that matter, Magruder shared some beautiful words about what it means to struggle in a community and find love in the midst of tension.
There is so much that I respected about Magruder’s article. He was honest, authentic, and clearly moving in the right direction. However, there are a few things that might be helpful to hold in tension with his good words. It is absolutely true that a church pastor, or any individual church member, can never guarantee that a church will not cause harm to someone. As Magruder implied, relationship is inherently risky – real interactions will inevitably cause conflict and there’s no avoiding that. However, Magruder’s article does not illuminate the very real difference between interpersonal conflict and the violence that is perpetuated daily towards LGBTQ folks, especially in the UMC.
LGBTQ people are well aware of the reality that there are absolutely no spaces in society that are guaranteed to protect us from homophobia or heterosexism. Painful words still come from the best allies, our closest friends, and often our families. If possible at all, undoing the deep threads of heterosexism weaved into the foundation of our traditions, values, and culture will take centuries. Enduring some painful misconceptions or hard words, even from those who most have our backs, is a part of daily life for many of us. I know when I am looking for a “safe place” I am not referring to these slip-ups, to an occasional judgmental glance, or even a close-minded attitude. I am looking for some things much more basic than that, which are unfortunately, very hard to find in a UMC church.